Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders

, Volume 48, Issue 7, pp 2319–2334 | Cite as

From Using Tools to Using Language in Infant Siblings of Children with Autism

  • Laura SparaciEmail author
  • Jessie B. Northrup
  • Olga Capirci
  • Jana M. Iverson
Original Paper


Forty-one high-risk infants (HR) with an older sibling with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) were observed longitudinally at 10, 12, 18 and 24 months of age during a tool use task in a play-like scenario. Changes in grasp types and functional actions produced with a spoon were assessed during elicited tool use. Outcome and vocabulary measures were available at 36 months, distinguishing: 11 HR-ASD, 15 HR-language delay and 15 HR-no delay. Fewer HR-ASD infants produced grasp types facilitating spoon use at 24 months and functional actions at 10 months than HR-no delay. Production of functional actions in HR infants at 10 months predicted word comprehension at 12 months and word production at 24 and 36 months.


Autism High-risk siblings Grasping Functional actions Tool use Language 



This study was supported by a Fulbright Visiting Scholar Program Scholarship awarded by the U.S. – Italy Fulbright Commission to Dr. Sparaci; by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Grant Agreement No. 660468 to Dr. Sparaci; by NIH R01 HD54979 to Dr. Iverson. Special thanks to Kristen M. Korner who acted as second coder. We thank Nina B. Leezenbaum, Krista K. Pugliesi, Shelby M. Parsons, Maura Hilser and Julija Hetherington at the Infant Communication Lab, University of Pittsburgh for their invaluable work in recruitment, data collection, assessment of participating families and for assistance with data management. Special thanks go to the parents and children who participated in this study. Portions of these data were presented at the International Congress on Infant Studies, New Orleans, Luisiana, May 2016.

Author Contributions

Dr. LS was responsible for overall study design, building the coding grids and coding videos and preparing the manuscript. Ms. JBN carried out all data mining and statistical analyses. Dr. OC and Dr. JMI acted as Senior supervisors throughout the study. All co-authors read, edited, and approved the manuscript.


This study was funded by the Fulbright Visiting Scholar Program awarded by the U.S. – Italy Fulbright Commission, the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Grant Agreement No. 660468 and NIH R01 HD54979.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors have no conflict of interest.

Informed Consent

Informed Consent was obtained from parents of all infants who participated in this study.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of Cognitive Sciences and Technologies (ISTC)National Research Council (CNR) of ItalyRomeItaly
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyUniversity of PittsburghPittsburghUSA
  3. 3.Department of PsychologyUniversity of PittsburghPittsburghUSA
  4. 4.UCL Division of Psychology and Language Sciences, Experimental PsychologyUniversity College LondonLondonUK

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